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No. 1 Syracuse at 20-0 after 71-63 win over Pitt

Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs drives against Syracuse's Scoop Jardine during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. Syracuse won 71-63. Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs drives against Syracuse's Scoop Jardine during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. Syracuse won 71-63. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
By John Kekis
AP Sports Writer / January 17, 2012
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SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Syracuse is still perfect.

Ranked No. 1 for the sixth straight week, the Orange won their 20th straight game on Monday night, beating scrappy Pittsburgh 71-63.

It was win No. 876 for coach Jim Boeheim, tying him with Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for fourth place all-time in Division I. North Carolina's Dean Smith is third with 879.

The Orange (20-0, 7-0 Big East) set a school record for most consecutive victories to start a season, and seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph achieved their own meaningful moment: Neither had ever beaten the Panthers.

"The best start in school history and beating Pitt, this is something I'll always remember," said Jardine, who had 12 points and 10 assists, his second double-double in five games. "Coach is going to keep breaking records. We're trying to do something special here. We just have to stay focused on the task at hand."

Dion Waiters led Syracuse with 16 points and Joseph had 12, none more important than his 3-pointer with 8:22 left after Pitt had crept within 53-49.

"I've been part of history a few times -- 34,000 crowd (at the Carrier Dome), this right here," Joseph said. "We'll never be forgotten. It's great. Tonight was for Coach."

Joseph and Brandon Triche both had 12 points for Syracuse, while Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks before fouling out in the final minute.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak to Pittsburgh (11-8, 0-6).

"It's the first time we've beaten Pitt in a while and we got Coach's win to put him up in the ranks," Joseph said. "It was a great night for us. That's big-time (tying Rupp)."

Pittsburgh, which has lost seven straight, had stopped Syracuse's season-opening winning streak at 18 games a year ago, and the Panthers seemed poised to do it again. They overcame a 13-0 deficit at the outset and pulled within 53-49 on Talib Zanna's jumper with 8:36 to go.

Syracuse responded as it has all season.

Waiters drove the lane and dished to a wide-open Joseph on the wing for that critical 3. It was Waiters' only assist of the game. Then, after Pittsburgh's John Johnson missed from long range, his only miss in four shots from beyond the arc, Waiters swished a 3 from the left wing and the lead was back to 10.

"You get in these games, you just have to make plays and we did," said Boeheim, who extended his Division I record for most 20-win seasons to 34. "It's not always good to get into these games, but when you do you have to make some plays and make your free throws."

Pittsburgh (11-8, 0-6) never got closer than eight points and could only lament what might have been. Too many missed layups and 11 missed free throws only extended the misery of the Panthers' losing streak.

"We responded well," said Ashton Gibbs, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. "We missed 11 free throws and we lost by eight. I think that was the difference. We make layups and make free throws, we win the game."

It was Pitt's first game against a top-ranked team in nearly three years. The Panthers brought a 2-13 record in those games into the Carrier Dome, but those two wins came in succession against Connecticut in February and March 2009.

Much has been made of Syracuse's depth this season as the Orange, led by Waiters, have consistently outscored the opponent's reserves. On Monday, the Panthers' reserves held a 30-25 edge.

"At the end of the day, there were a couple of times where we didn't go as strong to the basket," Gibbs said. "There were a couple of times where we should have dunked the ball instead of trying to go for layups. That's just the learning process of it."

The Panthers were coming off a stunning 62-39 home loss to Rutgers on Wednesday, the fewest points they scored in a regulation game since a 53-30 loss to Temple in 1969.

"Pittsburgh's a good team. I don't care what their record is," Boeheim said. "They're going to win a lot of games in this league. They've been a little unlucky in some of their losses."

Cameron Wright and Lamar Patterson also scored 10 points for Pitt, which had won 13 of the past 16 meetings with the Orange. Nasir Robinson, Pitt's second-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game, had four points and missed 6 of 8 free throws.

The Orange, who matched the longest run in school history at No. 1 -- set at the start of 1989-90 -- travel to Notre Dame on Saturday.

As he always does, Boeheim, now 67, brushed off talk of his accomplishment in a season that has been far from perfect off the court with the firing of associate head coach Bernie Fine in late November amid allegations of sexual abuse involving two former ball boys. A federal investigation is ongoing.

"The only thing I care about this year is what we're doing this year," Boeheim said. "When you get real old, maybe next year, I'll think about it."

Syracuse's last home win against the Panthers was 67-65 on Feb. 1, 2003. Syracuse's last win over Pitt was 65-61 in the 2006 Big East tournament championship game, and its last victory during the regular season was 49-46 in overtime in February 2004 at the Petersen Events Center.

"We didn't finish," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "In the second half, we finished a little better. We attacked it pretty well, maybe some more penetration out front would have been good for us, but we're still trying to get better in that area. It seemed like we were getting inside touches. We maybe took a few too many 3s, but for the most part we did not settle for 3s."

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